Malina opened in early 2011 in Brook Green (next to Kerbisher and Malt), serving Polish food in an area of London with such a large Polish population that bus-stop adverts in the area are sometimes in Polish rather than English. The restaurant name means “raspberry” in Polish and this is reflected in the raspberries painted on the otherwise plain walls of the dining room. The long, narrow room can accommodate up to 50 diners; it has a wooden floor, tables have no tablecloths and lighting is from a mix of side lamps on the walls and candles on each table. The two owners previously ran Daquise, a Polish café in South Kensington that has been running since 1947. The head chef was Marek Kluczny, who has worked in London kitchens for a decade, most recently at The Princess Victoria, from which he moved in July 2011.
The short wine list started at £13.95 and had Monte Vista Merlot 2009 £15.50 for a wine you can buy in a shop for £6, Mendoza Malbec 2009 at £21.50 for a wine that retails at £10, and Domaine Chante Cigale Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 at a reasonable £35 for a wine that will set you back £24 in an off-license. The kitchen went to the trouble of making their own dark rye bread, which was served with a bacon spread (14/20).
The buckwheat pancakes blinis (£5.40), which actually have a Russian rather than Polish origin, were served with smoked salmon, cream and a little caviar. The pancakes were a little heavy in texture but perfectly pleasant, though the smoked salmon was rather ordinary (12/20). Pierogi, the traditional Polish dumplings, were offered with an array of fillings: cheese and potato, meat, cabbage and mushrooms, buckwheat and bacon, spinach and cheese, buckwheat and chicken liver. I tried a selection of five (£5.50), which were certainly competently made, though a little soft in texture and not the best I have eaten (the finest I have tried was at a restaurant called Under The Angels in Krakow). Still, this was an enjoyable dish (12/20).
Fillet of pork (£14.90) was served with roast potatoes and a sauce of cream and chanterelles, but although these were supposedly fresh mushrooms there were hardly any present in the sauce that was served on my plate. The pork itself was uninspired, a little dry and a little chewier than ideal, and somewhat over-salted even for my taste. However the potatoes were very good, which rather rescued the dish (11/20). On the side I had some pleasant red cabbage, though it would be better if the menu labelled which side dishes were hot and which were cold (this red cabbage side dish was cold, one in another dish was served hot).
I enjoyed an apple cake made from scratch, which was objectively a little over-sweet and could have done with more sharpness from the apples, but the cake had good texture (13/20). Coffee (£2.40) was bitter and tasted cheap to me. The bill came to £49 with three glasses of wine, which is not excessive but neither did it feel particularly cheap given the ingredient cost. I have tried many Polish restaurants in London over the years and this one is certainly up there with the best of the ones I have tried (admittedly that is not a giant hill to climb). Service was friendly throughout the evening.